February 5th is Digital Learning Day – a day that celebrates effectively using technology to strengthen a student’s learning experience and provide opportunities for individualized instruction. We asked one of our expert instructional math coaches, Ed L., to share a fun lesson idea to celebrate! Check out his suggestions to teach abstract concepts using a free resource that empowers students to create and share simulations. You can also check out Ed’s Game Based Learning series for more ways to engage students.
Students often have difficulty with theoretical or abstract concepts. Many benefit from being able to play with the concepts in a simulated environment. Netlogo is a free resource with a supportive community that allows creation and sharing of learning simulations that teach by experimentation and play.
You can use simulation environments in many ways. Netlogo offers wonderful opportunities to either create your own simulation or use an existing one.
Existing simulations on Netlogo are listed by academic concentrations. Each model offers suggested uses with students including instructions, a list of inquiry questions to guide student learning, and suggestions on how to extend learning.
Models are designed to be used by individuals, small groups or as full classroom experiences. Teachers I work with have found success using the following sequence:
- Demonstrate how the model works.
- Propose an inquiry question and students record their predictions.
- Students share predictions with peers and then modify as desired.
- The simulation is run to test the hypothesis.
- Students individually reflect on their prediction and the observed results.
- Repeat steps 2-5 with each question or challenge increasing the depth of learning and exploration
Even if you have no programming background, it is easy and fun to create a simulation with Netlogo. Just follow these steps:
- Clarify the field of exploration to specifically highlight objectives of the simulation.
- List key variables and the range of values that should be allowed.
- Creation of the sliders and interface for those values.
- Setting up the programming flow for the simulation (this step may need to be broken into planning stage then actual programming stage for some learners).
- Test the simulation.
- Document resources for how others use the model, questions or challenges, and extensions or variations.
Regardless if teachers choose to use existing models or encourage the creation of new models, the depth of learning is extensive in Netlogo. Student motivation is increased while still maintaining structured purpose to the playful environments available. Share your experiences with others and join the community of those learning with simulations through Netlogo!